Photography Tip – How to use a Grey Card

Look at all this lovely grey, look at it, it’s all over the place. Did you know that grey is the new black. It’s the in thing to have all the interior design programs they use a grey now if you’re watching this on Dave and it’s the year twenty twenty it’s now two thousand and eleven and grey is in. I mean look at Jane here for goodness, look here, look look look in the camera, look at this look at that almost head to toe in grey. reasons managed I’ve even managed to break the camera and knock the microphone off, never mind it will be a fiddly moment for you there. But what has it got to do with it? now grey cards what do they look like? here’s one i bought this morning on the way here because to be honest they’re a bit of a thing for the past, people don’t really use grey cards as much these days. The great card is halfway between black
and white it’s fifty percent in grey now they can be used to ensure you’ve got an
accurate exposure on your camera, you can also use them for colour accuracy particularly if you’re shooting raw. This one is white on one side and grey on the other now your camera cant think, it think’s the whole world is this tone because of that if you’re shooting in extreme conditions like dark or bright the camera will probably get it wrong because it’s going to try and make it like that. But this is great for the average kind of shot in average conditions let me just show you how you would use one if you chose too. Laurence i’m just going to borrow you if i may, just get yourself and come over here. i’m just going to pick up my camera i can’t leave it on the floor. Pretty good, Laurence move that way a little bit, whoa that’s too much, that’s it. There’s a saddle stem going out of his head and we don’t really want it. Now let’s see how i’m going to shoot the shot. This really only applies if you’re shooting in manual to be quite honest but what you can do is with the camera in an auto mode the grey side like this, just hold it in front of your subject careful not to shade it with your own body and just fill the view finder with that grey. wake the camera while pressing the
button and you can read through the view finder what the exposure should be, this says one hundred and twenty fifth of a second, at F six point three. So you go into manual and you set the hundred and twenty fifth of a second at F six point three and that should be the correct exposure. Now i don’t know if you had noticed while we were doing that and setting that the sun came out that is why they’re a bit fiddly but there we go, i can then take a shot. it’s dropped back down again, i reckon we’re okay. here we go to launch the moody skateboarder again. cool, and the exposure is correct. For colour correction it’s quite handy because you know what colour this is this is grey on one side if i can open it, and it’s white on the other so that you can hold that in your hand
on the computer when you’ve got that shot and you know what color it is but i can also quickly take a shot like that with that in it. So what i can do is look at the colours that i’m gonna set when i you know do the post-production i can hold that in this hand and look at the screen and i can adjust the colours till they’re right. then i can set those adjustments onto
the proper image which doesn’t have that in it if you’re shooting raw, you’ve got a little
i drop for collecting colors all you do is click onto the grey that will give you the correct color
balance and then you copy those settings onto the file which doesn’t have the
card in, am i making sense? There is one more thing, suppose you got a really really bright background Laurence can you come over here, we’re going to put you against the sun let’s say i’m going back to exposure for the moment say you’re in the alps it’s really really bright, now you can see the skies quite bright there, if i shoot, if i was to set the camera i’m going to stick it back onto aperture priority, no full program, that will do it. Let’s say i was going to do a wide-ish shot with Laurence against that sky,it’s a rubbish picture i know, but we haven’t got the budget to go to the alps right now, if i just let the camera deal with it there’s a good chance we will have a complete silhouette
because the light meter has been confused by all that brightness and it’s darkened it down, the camera doesn’t know that Lawrence is the subject to the picture. So if i again go into manual mode and i get my grey card here we go, and i hold that in front of laurence by looking at that i know again it’s a hundred and twenty fifth of a second at F six point three just pure fluke that. I’ve set that manually now, recompose the shot hang on, i’ll get it right in a minute, recompose the shot and as you can see lawrence is now the
correct exposure. So really that’s all there is to it, a grey card is kind of old fashioned, you can get smaller ones, they’re very very hand for getting your colours right if you’re shooting raw, but to be honest it’s much easier to do your exposure
just by using exposure compensation on the camera. Quick come back up, come back up, and i forgot, Laurence come back, come back, sorry it’s one of those days, right Laurence stand there, that’s it brilliant another way you could do that with the grey, if you’re in a program mode which i was you can either do it manually like i just did, but also on the back of the camera here you’ve got an auto exposure lock, it’s a little button that when you press it, it locks the exposure, so if i go back here and again fill the screen with grey press the exposure lock button and as long as i keep my thumb on there, it’s going to keep that locked so i can wave the camera around and as long as my thumbs there it’s good. Compose the shot, and take it. once again it’s got the exposure spot on i think that’s all now.

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100 thoughts on “Photography Tip – How to use a Grey Card

  1. is this the answer to photography ?

    i struggle with exposure i decided to only use manual on my camera but ever since i make mistakes every time iuse camera ill get 2 correct exposure and then 5 to light 5 to dark etc .

    should i buy one if these grey cards and expose to that everytime ?

  2. You don't need a grey card – you're better to use the camera's own light meter and adjust the exposure either manually or with exposure compensation as you need to. Have you watched our exposure films?

  3. thanks for reply mike , yes seen all your vids , i just need practice now .

    thanks for all your helpfull videos .

  4. I love your vids !! I dont know enough. English to tank you And the right words to greetings u deserve !!:)

  5. please advice. what if am using a credit card sized gray card? definitely, it would not fit entirely on the frame (viewfinder) and would not auto focus properly. but i think the gray card can only fill in the whole frame (when i look in the viewfinder) when i place it very close to the lens.
    please help. thanks

  6. The only problem I have is that when the camera is correctly exposed for the subject, then the back ground will be blown out, (very bright) wont it?? The photo that Mike produced in the video, was that modified in Lightroom so as to make an even exposure?? So getting the subject exposed correctly is only 50% of the problem? The other half is then darkening down the highlights in the background?? Or am I completely wrong??

  7. The pics in the video haven't had more than basic density and colour correction and there are some blown highlights. If the exposure range is outside of what a camera can capture then you'll need to introduce lighting to the subject and raise it to around the same level as background – fill in flash can help. Or you can shoot multiple images each at exposures that range from highlights to shade and combine them as an HDR in photoshop.

  8. I read that gray card for photography are actually 18% gray, and not 50% gray. Which is correct?

  9. Humans perceive brightness in an interesting way. Something that reflects 18% of light looks to a human as if it is half the brightness of something that reflects 100% light. I would love to tell you the science behind this, but it wont fit in a youtube comment

  10. If you don't have an 18% grey card you can use a white piece of paper. Just keep in mind that full white reflects 5.6 times more light than 18% grey. So you will need to set the correct exposure for the white paper then bring it up 2.5 stops (5.7 times more light).

    tl;dr you can use white paper, just set the exposure compensation up 2.5 stops

  11. My God! How refreshing it is to listen to well spoken English. One cannot help to notice how simple you make these techniques. Because of your videos, I truly understand how to meter a scene and how to properly use my Grey card.
    Mike, your videos are "off the chain". That's a bit of street slang English if you will.

  12. The EC does not work in the Manual Mode. That means that I have to factor it as far as which direction of my stops… Right?

  13. That makes a lot sense Mike. Because that also takes care of the White Balance issue in case the camera is set on Automatic White Balance…

  14. Yes that is correct. All you really want to be doing in manual mode is making sure that the white paper is not over exposed. If you have time to do a few test shots this is quite easy. Custom firmware such as magic lantern on canon cameras also helps
    All the best

  15. exposure is the amount of light you get in a shot, while white balance is about the color of the light. with white balance you can make shots warmer or colder

  16. It is confusing. 50% is halfway between black and white – but it's also called an 18% grey card too. Sorry I don't know why.

  17. It depends on the face. If the face is black then the exposure spot metering gives you will be too bright and if the face is very pale then it'll be too dark. Have a look at this video /watch?v=3PAqBssDMfI

  18. Hi Mike,

    I really enjoy watching your videos, they are really helpful. I just want to ask one thing, do you prefer to shoot in raw format or in jpeg. Thanks!

  19. Thank you. For a client always RAW. For 'happy snaps' at a BBQ which won't go further than Facebook then Jpeg because I won't have to process them

  20. Yes you will. The polariser cuts light but because the camera is metering through it it'll be metering the light entering the lens and the exposure will be OK

  21. As savvy pros switch to mirror-less cameras for better stills AND video in hybrid workflows, PRE-PROCESSING in the camera will become all the rage. RAW workflows and post-processing will go the way of the dSLR, flash, and big, clunky cameras in the NEXT digital revolution.

    Please open your minds and view this video?

  22. Sorry, I meant the use of the spot and multi-selector metering modes INSTEAD of the grey card.. Any disadvantages on doing that? Thanks!

  23. Once again a very easy to understand video… the best bit for me wasn't about the grey card (don't get me wrong that was good) but finally understanding how the exposure lock works. Many thanks and keep up the good work. 🙂

  24. I find all of your tutorials brilliant (to borrow from a Brit) and very helpful.
    Just obtained a 3 in 1 White Balance Card set, now I know more about how to use it. Thanks so much!

  25. Glad i clicked your link when searching for grey cards.
    Very clear description, easy to understand. Thank you

  26. you really have it! there's no doubt about it, you can explain like no one else. However, when you recompose after locking, do you keep the same distance and and spot from the object? thumbs up Mike

  27. Hi Mike, liked a lot this post ( it's old but who cares ).
    but about the card, isn't it  supposed to be 18% instead of 50% grey ?

  28. Cheers for your tips…here's a link to my recent product photography

  29. I'm sorry but really laughed at that random shot of Lawrence at 1:26. So unexpected hahaha. Great tutorial, though

  30. I'll have to try your tip; using the gray card to set the exposure when shooting in manual.
    The way that I learned how to use a gray card was use it to set the white balance. It just gets better and better!
    I have a set of 3 plastic cards to adjust the white balance. It comes in handy in difficult lighting conditions; like if there is a mixture of light sources, like daylight and incandescent or fluorescent (or whatever).
    Once again, thanks!

  31. Just wanted to say that your videos have been enormously helpful to me as a new photographer. I have had my DSLR for awhile but just started classes and really trying to get more serious and yours are always the most entertaining and easiest to understand!

  32. hello. thank you for your great tips of getting right exposure by using grey card.
    i would like to know what mode i should use to get right exposure? i heard about auto mode and then P mode.
    it confused me a little bit… should i set a fix iso first? or just switch to auto mode and let camera decide everything (A,S,ISO).
    Some ppl suggest that using A mode to get it right (set Aperture by myself).. could you please explain a little bit more in details? thank you very much~

  33. thanks mike, I take photos in wooded areas of insect's and fungi, here in the UK, using canon 700d , sigma 105 macro and meike ring flash, but often find my photos are very brownish, would this method help?, and why do they say 18% grey , I think you said 50% … and what's the white side for ?

  34. hi i ask of you . if your going to get the meter on the grey card in front of brid. laurence, are you adjusting the little arrow in the ev to make it balance or in the 0ev. just like point and shoot. point your camera in the grey card and read, no adjustments. tnx

  35. Good video. I understand why you would want to use a gray card for white balance, but what is the purpose of white side of the card? I hear some people saying that the white side should be used for white balancing video, but that doesn't make any sense to me. The only thing I can think of is as a reference for white in post. Is that your understanding too? Thanks!

  36. Did you use the E-Lock in P mode or M mode? Because I noticed that Exposure lock does not work in Manual mode. However Program mode is like a point n shoot mode. Also, what's the difference between white ballance and grey card? Thanks.

  37. Hi Mike so ideally one would use the grey card every time before taking a picture? And also if I lock the exposure with the grey card settings then every picture with that setting will come out correctly exposed?

  38. Hi Mike, I'd like to know where I could buy the gray card like yours for convenience purpose. I'd love to get either your version or a gray card small like a debit card to carry around in pocket for white balance adjustment. Hope I could get some helps. Thank you for reading my question.

  39. Hi mike thank you so much. I have been searched for this for long time endly i have it to day. But i have a question, shoud i use always this grey card or just inly i will use it in challenging situation? What if i take grey picrure and set the WB manualy? Ut helps or not, i am confusing every time by wb.i hope you will reply me thank u.

  40. The gray card is also used for color balance.

    Have you shot under incandescent light? If you have, you see that your image is has a yellow or orange cast or some where in between.

    Even worse are fluorescent lights. These are filled with gas, and the color these give off can be just about any color, but normally they fall in the green and magenta colors and your image looks awful.

    Here's how to get around that.

    1. Put gray card in the image and take a shot. Then remove the gray card and shoot again.

    2. Using the first shot with the gray card, create curves adjustment layer. Now select the middle eyedropper on the adjustment layer, measure that gray card so that it gives you a correct gray (no color cast).

    3. Copy that curves layer onto the images that don't have the gray card in it. You'll find that your color balance is now correct. If you need to correct luminence values, you're working with a reference point. If you WANT a color cast, do that in post processing (Photoshop). Use any color that you wish (or even paint colors where you want them) on an overlying layer and set it's blend mode to color or hue, and lower the opacity for the look desired.

    Portraits shot in the shade also take on the color that surrounds them. If the sky is blue, your image will have a slight blue tint. If its a rainy day, that blue will be even more pronounced. If its shot in forest that's full of green, your subject's skin will have a slight green cast. To remove this, take a test shot with the subject holding a gray card. Then lose the card and shoot. You have one reference photo that will give you the correct color balance. You can use it's curves layer again and again as long as your subject remains in the same spot in the shade or forest. The color balance will be very close to perfect.

    Gray cards are out of fashion? Not with professional photographers! They use these and for good reason. They give you both a middle gray that can be used with a levels adjustment layer, and color balance that can be used with the curves adjustment layer.

    Why guess when there's a very inexpensive tool that can save you a lot of time in post processing?

  41. Back long ago I used to just take the meter reading on my AE-1 program right up on the face and get the settings that way and it worked pretty good. I never thought of a grey card

  42. 0:52 A gray card is NOT 50% gray you silly goose!! I'm sure you know its an 18% REFLECTANCE card. There's no such thing as 50% gray or 18% gray for that matter. Having said that, using a gray card is a great way to get spot on exposure if you're not in a hurry and you should NEVER be!

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